The Kashmir Valley is witnessing an uneasy peace after almost three months of turmoil. The markets are opening despite protests calls by separatists and the situation seems to be limping back to normalcy. Amidst all this, the eight point package announced by the centre post the visit of the All Party Delegation to the State has failed to generate much enthusiasm. Now, as part of the package, the centre has declared a three member panel of interlocutors which has also been rejected by the fractured political leadership of the Valley. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik feel that a Parliamentary panel would have been a more appropriate. Syed Ali Shah Geelani has, as usual, termed this as a “futile exercise” and the PDP is maintaining a stony silence while tacitly toeing the Mirwaiz line.
This apart, Geelani is very busy with the implementation of his protest calendars. He tried to disrupt opening of schools but did not meet with much success. Having attained partial success in targeting the image of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Para-military forces he has now trained his guns on the Army which he rightly perceives to be the last bastion of State authority in Kashmir. The people are being openly instructed by his cadre to “Gherao” the camps of the Army. Villagers are being motivated to create hurdles in the conduct of cordon and search operations by the forces. Rumours are being spread that Army personnel are telling women not to wear Burqas.
This negative attitude is not without reason. The separatists are well aware that, sooner than later, a can of worms will open and their complicity in orchestrating the violence that engulfed the Valley will be clearly established.
There is ample reason to believe that the protests were manipulated by the separatists and their partners with considerable financial and other support from across the line of control. It is well known that post the fateful incident June, 11, which led to the death of Tufail Mattoo the protests slowly but surely proliferated across the Valley, and gained momentum as the cycle of violence set-in. The agitations blossomed outwards from Srinagar and concentrated largely along the National highway and major population centre’s since the later areas provided the ring leaders an opportunity of melting in the crowds. The concentration was also by and large in urban areas like Anantnag, Bijbehara, Pampore, Srinagar, Palhalan, Sangram, Sopore, Baramulla, Handwara and Kupwara. Districts of Bandipora, Ganderbal and Budgam remained relatively calm with people not responding to the edicts of the separatists.
There are some other characteristics of the agitations that merit attention. The average size of crowds ranged between100-150 and rarely increased to ‘thousands’ as has been repeatedly reported by the media. The approximate strength of the populace supporting the agitation mostly varied between 20 to 25 percent. A majority of the people (70 to 80 percent) participating were the youth, with about one/two percent women mostly confined to Srinagar. Geographically, it so emerges that there were no incidents of mass agitations simultaneously across North, Central and South Kashmir. Apparently, the disruption was being powered by a small group of people who moved from one location to another.
The disturbances severely affected day to day life of the people. The losses incurred by shutdowns/protests on a daily basis are estimated to be in the tune of Rs 161 crores per day. Education of children, the livelihood of daily wage earners, horticulture, the tourist and connected industries like transport, handicraft etc were severely curtailed. A very large number of cases of post traumatic stress disorder were reported especially amongst the school children and their parents. All this further aggravated the situation and led to pent up frustration and anger. The resultant sense of despondency and frustration, on many occasions, boiled over and came out in the form of more protests.
Significantly, these disturbances were, by and large, concentrated in urban areas with very limited impact in the hinterland. There have been reports that people from villages who visited towns for day to day requirements, were targeted and told to show solidarity with the ‘Tehrik’. There are also reports indicative of the populace in villages refusing to listen to the edicts of the separatists. The long term ramification of this is that the Valley may be moving towards a rural-urban split which will add yet another security dimension to the already tense situation.
The much touted aspect of stone pelting also has a different story behind it. In the valley “stone pelting” has become a lucrative business with the unemployed youth offering their service for a price. Committed cadre of organisations like the Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar- e-Taiba and the separatists are given large sums of money to hire ‘initiators’ who started the process of stone pelting on pre-designated targets. The professionals mask their faces and know their escape routes. What is left behind to face the flak is the misguided youth in their teens who do it to show that they are brave and can hit the security forces.
These factors, in themselves, question the claim being made by the separatists that the agitation was and continues to be a homogeneous mass movement for ‘Azadi’ and ‘Plebiscite’. The interlocutors and others now involved in a post agitation analysis of the situation in Kashmir need to be sensitive to the manner in which the people and the events are being manipulated by vested interests. The mandate of the interlocutors needs to be extended to engagement of those entrusted with the security of the region and the territorial integrity of the Nation. The aspects of political aspirations and diverse shades of opinion can be dealt with after the basic issue of national security is addressed.